Lisa Schwarzbaum
September 22, 2000 AT 04:00 AM EDT

Pola X

type
Movie
Current Status
In Season
mpaa
Unrated
runtime
134 minutes
performer
Catherine Deneuve, Guillaume Depardieu
director
Leos Carax
distributor
Winstar Cinema
author
Leos Carax
genre
Romance, Foreign Language

We gave it an B

Restraint represents creative cowardice for Leos Carax. In Pola X, the bad-boy French filmmaker (who built a massive replica of Paris’ Pont Neuf for his extravagant 1991 love story, The Lovers on the Bridge) adapts Herman Melville’s obdurate 1852 novel Pierre, or the Ambiguities to a disembodied, modern France, with characteristic exciting, confounding, excessive unruliness. (The film’s title is an acronym for the book’s French title; X marks Carax’s 10th draft of the script.)

The romantically tortured story describes the ambiguities gnawing at Pierre (Guillaume Depardieu, smoldering blond son of Gérard), a successful writer chafing at the wealth, ease, and fame in his life: His mother (Cathérine Deneuve) lives in the family’s fabulous château, and he’s engaged to a yellow-haired aristocratic sylph (Delphine Chuillot). But lightness doesn’t suit Pierre; he prefers the darkness and misery offered him by a mysterious, raven-haired wild woman (Katerina Golubeva), who claims to be his half sister, and with whom he flees to live in a huge Parisian warehouse inhabited by an indecipherable terrorist group. That’s where he sets about writing his ”great book of truth.”

Truth turns out to be even less digestible than ”All work and no play makes Pierre a dull boy.” So does Pola X, although Carax’s work isn’t meant to be sipped. It’s stuff to be gulped, the extravagantly good and bad swallowed whole. The filmmaker contrasts Pierre’s velvety, privileged everyday life with his Iron Jean adventure by pushing the dream/nightmare details: Château living — especially as demonstrated by a regal Deneuve — is impossibly lush, while harsh warehouse living is made even more impossibly bruising by a banging metal-rock score. The filmmaker may have written 10 drafts, but there’s only one Carax, uncompromisingly ambiguous. B

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